Ask Phil: How do I pin track down?

20 September 2021
I've been told that it's wrong to use a hammer to pin track down. How am I supposed to do it then? Paul, via Facebook.

There are many different ways to achieve something in our hobby, and if you find one that works for you, then it's right, no matter what anyone else says.

However, let's look at pinning track down.

First, pick your pins. The Peco ones on the right are more discrete, but thinner and trickier to use as they tend to bend if you push them too hard. On the left are a mix of Hornby and Gaugemaster pins – more robust, but with larger heads. If you are new to tracklaying, use these as it makes life easier.

You also need to consider the baseboard you are using. I tend to use plywood so my pins will need to be forced into the surface. You can try a fibreboard, that way pushing pins in by hand is possible. The trouble is, if a pin goes in effortlessly, it can come out just as easily, and we don't want that.


Settrack pieces will have holes moulded in the sleepers for the pins, but flexitrack requires you to make these yourself with a 1mm bit. Drill all the way through the sleeper and just into the baseboard top, breaking the very top surface of the plywood will make putting the pin in easier.

Then, carefully hammer away. Small modelling hammers are available from the trade and OO modellers will find the heads fit between the rails, reducing the chance of whacking anything.

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But, if you are nervous, working on N gauge, or just want to be extra careful, take a bolt and hold this against the top of the pin. Then hit the head of the bolt.

The hammer stays several centimetres away from the track and yet the pin is still forced into place.

When hammering, aim to have the pinhead just touch the sleeper top. Hammering away too hard can distort the sleeper, putting a lump in the track. If you pin too hard, slide a small, flat-bladed screwdriver under the sleeper and gently lever it up. With a bit of practice, this becomes second nature, or maybe I'm just clumsy!

You might consider pinheads unsightly, but once ballast is glued down, you can always take pins out again, fill the holes and paint the sleepers – time-consuming, but the results are perfect.

Have you got a model railway question? E-mail us and we'll answer it.

Check out more tracklaying features in our Techniques section.

5 ways to improve the reliability of your layout.

How to ballast track.

How to expand your train set.